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Victim Responses to Sexual Assault: Counterintuitive or Simply Adaptive

NCJ Number
Patricia L. Fanflik
Date Published
August 2007
36 pages
This monograph identifies and examines rape victims' various psychological (e.g., depression, anger, or anxiety) and behavioral responses (e.g., not fighting back during a rape, continuing to date an assailant, or delayed reporting of the sexual assault) and considers why the victim's response appear to be "counterintuitive" to the general public.
A complex combination of individual characteristics and external factors influence how a woman will react to sexual victimization. Different psychological responses translate into different behavioral patterns or coping strategies for each survivor of sexual assault. Also, external factors--such as victim social support, severity of the assault, or a victim's relationship to the assailant--may also have an impact on a victim's psychological states and behaviors after a sexual assault. When the victim's behavior does not meet normative expectations of the general public about how a sexual assault victim would logically feel and behave, this can raise doubts about the severity and the nonconsensual nature of an alleged assault. Rape myths include beliefs that rape is primarily sexually motivated (research shows it combines elements of power, anger, and sexuality); that rapists are primarily strangers to victims (most perpetrators are known to the victim); that the victim did something to cause the rape (no behavior warrants a person being raped); and that victims experience less psychological trauma when raped by an acquaintance (no differences have been found in victim psychological symptoms whether or not she knows the rapist). Public education about rape and prosecutors' arguments to the jury in sexual assault cases should focus on the victim's lack of consent to sexual contact with the perpetrator while cautioning the jury not to make judgments about the case based preconceptions about how sexual assault victims should feel and behave or the circumstance under which rape occurs. 1 figure and 58 references